Remembering the Positives: President Obama's Accomplishments with Arab Americans
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
As President Barack Obama completes his second term in office, his legacy and impact become clearer among his constituents. While campaigning for the position, President Obama made several promises that he was unable to keep, such as closing Guantanamo Bay and bringing home all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also faced with tough decisions after the emergence of the Islamic State – the world’s deadliest terrorist organization.
Additionally, Arab Americans put their faith in President Obama to change the U.S. relationship with Israel for the better. Although he was not able to achieve all he had hoped to, President Obama pushed massive legislation that changed the lives of millions of Americans and took a few symbolic steps that Arab Americans won’t forget. He ends his eight years in office without any major personal or political scandals, and whether he was loved or not by every individual, he was respected for the challenging position he held as leader of the free world.
Compiled here is a list of momentous achievements for Arab Americans that occurred during the Obama administration. This reflection is one of positivity and gratitude for what was done, as opposed to resentment for what wasn’t – or what never will be – done.
Reversed Bush Torture Policies
After only two days into his first term, President Obama reversed the most controversial counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration on January 22, 2009. For years, American operatives were torturing innocent Iraqis and other Arabs. President Obama quickly imposed lawful interrogations and brought the U.S. into full compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Turned around Detroit’s auto industry
On March 30, 2009, President Obama announced a plan to prevent the auto industry’s collapse. Years later, the plan is credited with saving over one million jobs and possibly the entire auto industry. The big three auto companies employ thousands of Arab Americans in Michigan and provides pensions for thousands more retired Arab American auto workers.
Revived Civil Rights within the Department of Justice
In August of 2009, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder restored many neglected civil rights laws from the Bush era that disproportionately affected Arab Americans and Muslims. The revisions cracked down on discriminatory policing, housing, employment, and voting practices.
Signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act
On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which provided further funding and technical support to hate crime investigators. The act also applied existing hate crime laws to crimes based on perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. As a group that is often targeted with hate crimes, Arab Americans benefited from the better law enforcement responses that came from this act.
Hosted Iftar Dinners at the White House
During his presidency, Obama maintained the tradition of hosting Iftar Dinners at the White House during the holy month of Ramadan beginning in 2010. The Iftar dinners were a way of welcoming Muslim leaders into the White House, showing respect to the Muslim faith, and leading a diverse administration.
Eliminated Osama bin Laden
On May 2, 2011, President Obama announced that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, the founder and head of Al-Qaeda. The terrorist organization was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, which subsequently caused a severe upward trend in hate crimes and discrimination towards American Arabs, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Made it easier for immigrants to open small businesses
On August 2, 2011, the Obama administration instructed the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to make fundamental changes to immigration policies that created more opportunities for immigrants to become entrepreneurs. A significant portion of the Arab American community, both new and established members, chooses to open businesses to earn a living in the U.S.
Ended U.S. War in Iraq
The Iraq War officially ended on December 18, 2011, however, around 4,500 American troops remain in Iraq. The war was strongly opposed by Arab Americans because it began under the false pretenses that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi civilian body count is upwards of 200,000 people.
Offered Financial and Technical Support for Emerging Democracies in the Arab Spring
In order to show that President Obama supported the democratic transitions in Arab countries, he created a Rapid Response Fund in 2012 that offered foreign aid, debt relief, and technical assistance to Arab Spring countries. He said the funding would act as incentive for long-term political and economic growth in the Arab world.
Met with Arab American Leadership Before Visiting Palestine and Israel
On March 11, 2013, President Obama sat down with 10 leaders in the Arab American community, including Arab America President Warren David, in preparation for his trip to Ramallah and Israel. President Obama told the group that the trip was not meant to resolve an issue, but to show U.S. commitment to Palestinians and give them hopes.
Stood Up for Muslims on Multiple Occasions
During his 2015 and 2016 State of the Union addresses, President Obama condemned politicians who insult Muslims. He stated that hate crimes like mosque vandalisms or school bullying should not be tolerated. During the speech in 2015, President Obama also asked the country to reject offensive and inaccurate stereotypes of Muslims. At a CNN town hall in 2016, President Obama reiterated the double standard imposed on Muslims who commit crimes, compared to any other religious group.
Negotiated a deal to block a nuclear Iran
The Iran Nuclear Deal became official on January 16, 2016 after nearly a year of negotiations and debate. In the deal, internationally imposed sanctions were lifted in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear program. Iran’s Arab allies –factions in Syria and Lebanon – welcomed the deal and look forward to an economically dominant Iran. However, countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel warned against the threats Iran could pose to the region.
Proved that America won’t always do what Israel says
On January 22, 2015, President Obama stood up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a way that presidents before him have not. Obama decided he would not meet with Netanyahu when he came to visit Congress in March of 2015 to urge them to oppose the Iran deal. A majority of the Democrats in Congress rallied behind President Obama’s decision, instead of giving into Israel, during Netanyahu’s historic visit.
Made a Speech at an American Mosque
On February 2, 2016, President Obama visited the Islamic Center of Baltimore to demonstrate his commitment to religious freedom and send a message of support to Muslims around the world. In his speech, he stated that anti-Muslim political rhetoric has no place in America and that Islam has always been a part of the country’s history.
Welcomed 10,000 Syrian Refugees ahead of schedule and promised to bring in more
On August 29, 2016, the U.S. welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee into the country. President Obama promised to bring in 10,000 Syrians before the end of fiscal year 2016, and did so ahead of schedule. These new Americans have found homes in many Arab American communities across the country.
Proposed a New Census Category for Arab Americans
On October 3, 2016, the Obama administration announced plans to include a “Middle East and North African” (MENA) category to the 2020 U.S. Census. Including a MENA category would allow the U.S. to have real figures on the Arab American population, while also allowing the community access to affirmative action programs. The MENA category could also be used to track health trends and prevent ethnic-based health issues.
Dismantled Bush-era NSEERS Program
On December 22, 2016, President Obama formally ended the dormant program that tracked Arab and Muslim men in the country. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS) program was created after 9/11 as a counterterrorism strategy, but was suspended in 2011 after being deemed discriminatory and useless.
Abstained on UNSC 2334 Regarding Illegal Israeli Settlements
On December 23, 2016, President Obama abstained from a major United Nations Security Council vote regarding Israel and its illegal settlements program. Typically, the U.S. votes in Israel’s favor, blocking any resolutions that criticize or punish its Middle East ally. However, Obama abstained this time, allowing the resolution to pass in a symbolic victory for Palestinians.